Some local grocers no longer giving hazard pay

Linden Hills Co-op
A worker cleans the checkout conveyor belt at the Linden Hills Co-op. The co-op has extended hazard pay for workers through at least Sept. 27. Photo by Isaiah Rustad

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, many Southwest Minneapolis grocery workers are no longer receiving a pay bump, though some have received gift cards or bonuses in recent months.

In the early days of the pandemic, most grocery stores offered their workers extra hourly pay as they worked on the front lines amid the early uncertainty over COVID-19.

That included Cub Foods, Kowalski’s, Aldi, Whole Foods and the Wedge and Linden Hills co-ops in Southwest.

Cub, Aldi and Whole Foods ended their hazard pay increase of $2 an hour sometime this summer, according to employees. (The companies declined to comment for this story.) A Cub employee said full-time employees have received $400 Cub gift cards, and part-timers have received $200 gift cards. Whole Foods provided all full-time employees who were with the company in June a $500 bonus and part-timers a $250 bonus.

Kowalski’s Markets has extended its $2 an hour pay bump through Jan. 2.

Josh Resnik, CEO of the company that operates the Wedge and Linden Hills co-ops, estimated that his company had spent over $600,000 on extra pay as of Sept. 15. “It’s money well spent,” he said. (The company has extended hazard pay through at least Sept. 27.)

Lunds & Byerlys gave full-time employees a $500 bonus and part-time employees a $200 bonus in April and plans on paying out additional bonuses after its fiscal year ends in September, depending on profits. A spokesperson wasn’t sure for how much those bonuses would be.

Two stores, Seward Community Co-op and Target, have upped pay for all employees to at least $15 an hour. (Seward’s pay increase is built into a recently approved union contract.)

In interviews conducted at four Southwest Minneapolis stores, workers said they have generally felt safe working these past few months, noting precautions their stores have taken, such as installing plexiglass in front of checkout counters.

Cub employee David Evans said he goes straight upstairs to shower and change after his shifts, which is a prerequisite before his wife will allow him into the rest of the house.

He said that he has felt more comfortable this summer because most customers have been wearing masks, as required by Gov. Tim Walz starting in July.

“The level of tension in the store is less,” he said.

Wedge Community Co-op worker Tyler Jacobson, who works in customer service, said the start of the pandemic was stressful but that the store has felt normal this summer, despite extra duties like wiping down carts and baskets.

Employees at the store are asked to call a supervisor if someone does not want to wear a mask, though most have been good about wearing them, according to cheese packer Jordan Parshall.

(Cub and Lunds & Byerlys employees also are asked to call managers if they see someone who is unmasked, according to workers at the stores.)

Parshall began his position in early August, after being on unemployment for most of the spring and summer, because he was laid off from his barista job at Peace Coffee in Downtown Minneapolis.

He said he would have preferred not to work during the pandemic but that his savings would only have sustained him for a couple of months after the national $600 unemployment bonus expired in July.

Because he’s 23 and doesn’t have health conditions that would put him at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, he said he feels more comfortable than he would otherwise.

Bills that would provide additional funds to essential workers have stalled at both the state and federal levels. An April proposal from U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would have provided an additional $25,000 to each essential worker through Dec. 31, and a May proposal from Minnesota state Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) would have provided $250 to each essential worker.